Technological Marvels Aboard The RRS Sir David Attenborough

Credit: zhao chen/unsplash

Captain Will Whately’s excitement is palpable when he enumerates the myriad capabilities of the RRS Sir David Attenborough (SDA). The RRS Sir David Attenborough (SDA) isn’t just another ship; its technological brilliance and extensive capabilities set it apart, says an article published on Ship-Technology.

  • Captain Will Whately’s excitement is palpable when he enumerates the myriad capabilities of the RRS Sir David Attenborough (SDA).
  • SDA represents a remarkable technological achievement, integrating the functionalities of two distinct vessels.
  • SDA’s DP 2 classification involves two separate sets of engines capable of operating the system.

Another Ship & Technological Brilliance

When delving into what distinguishes the RRS Sir David Attenborough (SDA) from conventional ships, Captain Will Whately promptly emphasizes its extensive capabilities: aircraft functionality, icebreaking, and dynamic positioning, to name a few. His description encompasses the vessel’s quiet engine, enabling acoustic equipment use, cargo capacity, scientific winch systems, and underwater sensors, elements that make the SDA a testament to Britain’s leadership in Antarctic research. The ship, stretching 129 meters long with a Gross Tonnage of 15,000, boasts diesel-electric propulsion through Rolls Royce Bergen B33:45 engines, a helipad, room for a crew of 30, and a range of 19,000 nautical miles at 13 knots.

A Technologically Dense Ship

During the design of the SDA (Scientific Discovery Vessel), the NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) and BAS (British Antarctic Survey) faced the challenge of amalgamating the functionalities of two substantial ships—the RRS Ernest Shackleton, previously used for logistics, and the RRS James Clark Ross, employed for research. Consequently, the ship, described by Whately as “technologically dense,” embodies an intricate fusion of numerous systems and capabilities within a single hull, aiming to meet diverse requirements.

The Moon Pool

McAfee approaches the four-meter-square opening in the hull, referred to as the moon pool, a pioneering feature for a BAS vessel. Traditionally utilized in the oil drilling industry to facilitate easy ocean access for substantial drilling equipment, the moon pool on the SDA revolutionizes the data collection process during scientific cruises. While numerous research vessels have used similar openings to deploy equipment like ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) and AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles), the moon pool offers additional advantages, especially on an icebreaking vessel like the SDA.

Dynamic positioning

The utilization of the ship’s infrastructure to bolster scientific data collection is evident in the SDA’s DP (Dynamic Positioning) abilities, an innovation derived from the oil rigging industry. This technology enables the ship to position itself within three or four decimal places of specified coordinates. Chief Officer Rob Bellis elucidates this technology to Ship Technology while the crew tests the systems. He emphasizes the core aspect of dynamic positioning, which revolves around redundancy, incorporating numerous sensors, inputs, and engine configurations to maintain position. Even in the event of certain system failures, the SDA can sustain its position. The ship’s systems utilize GPS coordinates as a reference for positioning and, aided by four thrusters, two main propellers, and two rudders, can effectively maintain the SDA at exact coordinates, even in harsh weather conditions—a common occurrence, as described by Bellis.

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